Barkley recalled by England as Grayson is forced to pull out

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The Independent Online

If the hokey-cokey qualified as a ballroom dance, Paul Grayson and Olly Barkley would be world champions. For the second time in a fortnight, Grayson is out after being counted in; once again, Barkley is in after being left out. Clive Woodward once made a habit of shaking his team about between major international fixtures, but even he must be confused by events surrounding the outside-half position.

If the hokey-cokey qualified as a ballroom dance, Paul Grayson and Olly Barkley would be world champions. For the second time in a fortnight, Grayson is out after being counted in; once again, Barkley is in after being left out. Clive Woodward once made a habit of shaking his team about between major international fixtures, but even he must be confused by events surrounding the outside-half position.

Indeed, there was a serious degree of bemusement about the issue yesterday. Woodward indicated he had initially included Grayson in the side to face France in Paris on Saturday night in the knowledge that the 32-year-old Northampton stand-off was still struggling with the calf injury that prevented him facing Wales last weekend. Grayson, meanwhile, claimed he had been perfectly confident of playing - "It was all systems go on Monday," he said - but had suffered more problems during training on Tuesday afternoon, some time after his coach had announced the line-up.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Barkley was as pleased as Punch with his latest recall to arms. "I'm delighted to be starting," said the Bath goal-kicker, "especially as I have the advantage of plenty of preparation time." As Barkley performed with considerable self-assurance despite being rushed into the fray against Wales, the portents are good for this final match of the championship - by far the most severe test of the youngster's mettle to date.

Severe because Stade de France, the space-age national stadium situated in the northern reaches of the city, is among the most intimidating of venues for any young sportsman; severe because in this instance, Barkley faces Frédéric Michalak, who glories in the nickname of the "anti-Wilkinson". If the Englishman seems increasingly like a chip off the Jonny Wilkinson block, the Frenchman is quite the opposite. The contrasting styles at No 10 - quiet concentration in white, deafening pyrotechnics in blue - give this fixture an added edge.

While Barkley does not yet know what it is to fail in front of 70,000-plus people - not to mention a television audience measured in the millions - Michalak has suffered his share of public humiliation, not least in the World Cup semi-final against England last November. The memory of that game looms large in the French mindset, despite their protestations to the contrary. They will seek closure this weekend.

"Every match is a new beginning," said Fabien Pelous, the French captain, yesterday. "It is not about revenge; this is a different day, a different competition. Four months ago, England were the best team in the world, but they have since lost to Ireland, and if we beat them here, I am not sure they will even be able to call themselves the best team in Europe. I am telling our young players that what we must aim at is the reclaiming of that title, which was ours in 2002."

Pelous is now one of the most respected locks in the world; maybe even the most respected, following the retirement of England's Martin Johnson. He was laughing this week in Marcoussis even when engulfed by journalists, cameramen and photographers, as well as members of the local gendarmerie on alert for a visit by the French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

"It amuses me to see how different a rugby game can be when it becomes a major event like this match against England," he said. "Journalists you have never seen, ministers - even the prime minister - all the people asking for tickets, it's funny really. It doesn't impress me at all because I don't need a major event to motivate myself. I am approaching this game like any other game."

As captain, however, he must make adjustments.

"We have several new players in the team and they could be disrupted and even destroyed by this frantic agitation," he said. "Part of my job as captain is to make this so-called 'event' less dramatic. It will be a different day, a different competition, different teams, as players have retired on both sides," Pelous said.

"It would be silly to talk about revenge. Whatever happens on Saturday, England will still be world champions for four years. They were the best team in Australia, they won the World Cup. Full stop."

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